01/12/2009. Contributed by Gareth D Jones
pub: Subterranean Press. 752 page illustrated numbered limited edition hardback. Price: $300.00 (US). ISBN: 978-1-59606-286-3.
check out website: www.subterraneanpress.com
What has always struck me about Ray Bradbury's short stories is the lyrical quality of his prose. The sentences seem to ramble, but always with purpose, always with poetic grace. Introductions by several authors make similar comments and the introductions by Ray Bradbury himself display the same enthralling style.
This volume contains not only the original 200-page 'Martian Chronicles', but an additional 200 pages of other Martian tales, collected together and including some previously unpublished works. Of these, I'd only read a handful previously. The book is finished with two screenplays written by Ray Bradbury. The sheer number of stories makes it almost impossible to comment on any of them individually.
The original 'Martian Chronicles' collection flows from tale to tale, all individual yet all linked. Some characters and several themes recur throughout: the Wild West spirit of the settlers, the detachment of the native Martians, the ancient abandoned cities, the telepathic and hallucinatory abilities of the few Martians who survive the invasion. The entire collection builds up an almost hypnotic vision of Mars - crystal cities, dried up seas, grand canals, ancient culture, men cut off from their home planet, adjusting to life on Mars in numerous different ways. Some, like the lonely traveller in 'Night Meeting', think they may be going mad. In 'The Luggage Store', 'The Off Season' and 'They All Had Grandfathers' the characters display an enterprising spirit and are determined to make a go of it. The threat of atomic war on Earth is always in the background and supplies the reason that many travelled to settle on Mars.
Some of the stories particularly captivated me. In 'The Million Year Picnic', a family of survivors arrives from Earth to face a lonely future on Mars. It's an exquisitely crafted piece that demonstrates excellent character portrayal. The parents know that there's no going back, the young children think they're going on a picnic, while the fourteen year-old boy suspects the truth and takes his first steps to adulthood, playing along for the sake of the children. It's the final story in the original volume and provides an uplifting conclusion.
An alternative version of the Martian future is portrayed in 'The Other Foot'. Mars is colonised solely by African-Americans, the age of the stories can be seen by the other euphemisms used. When Earth is destroyed and a lone rocket arrives bringing white survivors, the emancipated colonists are determined to give their former oppressors a taste of their own medicine. It's a powerful story that has lost none of its relevance even fifty years after writing.
'Night Call, Collect' is one of two stories with very similar premises. After most colonists return to Earth, one man is abandoned, seemingly the only person on the planet. When the telephone rings he knows that he is not alone. So begins an epic planet-wide quest to find the other person, to answer the call before they hang up. Another classic.
'Dark They Were, And Golden Eyed' is a quintessential example of the entire Mars pantheon of stories. Uncomfortable with his new life on Mars, one man determines to return to Earth by any means. His family are adapting to life on the red planet, all too well for his liking. The magical, enthralling quality of Ray Bradbury's Mars proves to be just as effective on the colonists as it does on us the readers.
Of course, being written from the 1940s onward, there are many anachronisms, both in terms of technology and of attitudes. I've always enjoyed that about classic Science Fiction, though. The continual references to telegraphs and rockets and the dearth of any computer technology certainly don't detract from the stories. In a way it has the same appeal as steampunk. We know that Mars doesn't really have canals, nor a breathable atmosphere. We know there aren't Martians and it's not that easy to transport thousands of people and their belongings. But knowing that, we can easily suspend our disbelief, transport ourselves to a more na´ve era when these things seemed possible and wallow in Ray Bradbury's magnificent and captivating vision of a future that never came to pass.
The question that remains then is whether you can afford to spend $300 dollars on this limited edition, signed hardback? Or $900 on the ultra-limited edition, individually lettered, slip-cased, signed hardback? Certainly for quality of writing, superb story-telling and a piece of SF history, you can't get much better. I most definitely recommend this volume, but you'll have to decide for yourself whether your wallet is big enough.
Gareth D. Jones
Add SFcrowsnest.com daily news updates to your own web site or blog - just cut and paste the code below...
Stephen Hunt's novels - USA